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Ecomobility: changing lanes and minds

Transport is the fourth highest, and the fastest growing, carbon emitting sector in South Africa but a new WWF experiment is showing the way — inspiring a rethink of private car usage and the uptake of alternative options.

© Nik Radzi
A recent internal survey among WWF staff revealed that single occupancy cars are still the most common choice of transport.

It is difficult getting around without the comfort of our cars, especially for parents dropping off kids at school before going to work or when you need to make that quick stop at the mall for some mid-month shopping!

But what if we could better plan our trips? My colleagues and I often used to talk about ridesharing – or carpooling – but we’d always find a reason why it would not work. That was until WWF kick-started a staff ecomobility project. As the project coordinator, I had to play my part in making my travel more carbon (and cost) friendly.

I joined a ridesharing group with two other colleagues. The plan was to travel sustainably, but it also turned out to be a money saver. That financial saving was substantial – our calculated saving was almost 60% of our monthly travelling cost!

We also worked through some of the excuses we’d previously made. For instance, we learned that we didn’t have to live in the same neighborhood. We just needed to make a little more effort, compromise here and there, and then plan our trips better.

How it works

© Innocentia Modau
WWF staff start a rideshare group.

All three of us commute from Pretoria to Braamfontein in Johannesburg. At the beginning of each week we discuss our work schedules and work hours. We then plan our week accordingly and take turns driving. Each of us drives twice a week at the most. Apart from the cost and carbon savings (two fewer cars on the road), we discovered other benefits.

Because we each drove less, our general mood improved .We also got to socialise and learned that we have a lot in common. Our drive-time conversations, whether about current affairs or random subjects, have made the long commute that much more bearable. And if you’re not driving, you can even take a power nap or catch up on some work. This project has given us an opportunity to give ride sharing a try. And in the process, we discovered that it was really more about changing our behaviour.

Imagine the impact if half the people commuting to work from Pretoria to Johannesburg and vice versa did the same? The N1 (linking the two cities) would have less traffic congestion and related road rage. Lower transport infrastructure costs would mean that some of this budget could be redirected to other more pressing social needs.

Lessons learned

Ecomobility Challenge Kholosa taking public transport
© Natasha Prince
Kholosa Magudu reduces her carbon footprint by taking public transport.

This whole experience has taught me that transport is not a top priority for most people. People are so focused on other environmental issues, they don’t realise that transport emissions are a major contributor to global warming which causes climate change. If we want to reduce these emissions we have to reduce private car travel. But the inconsistent, inaccessible, unsafe and unreliable nature of public transport makes it difficult to “sell” it to private car users.  Cities are working hard to improve the integration of public transport options so that these become more efficient and convenient for people to use.
 
Until public transport improves, we can still think about our actions, what impact they have on the environment and how we can change them. Businesses and employees can initiate their own ecomobility programmes or initiatives like public transport, travelling buddy systems, ridesharing groups or by giving them the option to travel outside of peak times. Other interventions include setting up satellite offices where large groups of employees live, or having a pool car available for work related trips during office hours and removing allowances that encourage the use private cars.
 
I learnt that sometimes the solutions to becoming more ecomobile are simple and sometimes they are more complex – but that there is always room to improve. Like they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Innocentia Modau Photo
Innocentia Modau , Transport Research and Logistics Officer

Innocentia is responsible for research on transport with the aim of reducing private car travel and associated carbon emissions through encouraging a shift to low carbon mobility